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East Bay Express, April 5, 2006


Out, Damned Pesto Spot!

-- By Lisa Drostova

Shotgun does Macbeth as a pair of overambitious
parents questing for the perfect preschool.

Macbeth meets the soccer mom set in a clash of juice-boxes in the Shotgun Players' Bright Ideas, which probes just how far parents will go to ensure their children's happiness. Lie? Cheat? Maim? Kill? Don't laugh, it's not that much of a stretch. In France, Christophe Fauviau is on trial for drugging his daughter's tennis rivals, leading to one man's death at the wheel. In the UK, Maxine Bell's parents were so upset she'd been told she couldn't wear her nose ring to school that they came in and threatened the headmistress with bodily harm and ended up in jail. Over here, the news brims with stories of parents threatening, beating, and even shooting their children's sports coaches.

Playwright Eric Coble nimbly smushes together Shakespeare's tale of a couple twisted beyond redemption and the hunt for the perfect preschool like the halves of a PB&J on organic whole-wheat bread. Joshua and Genevra Bradley have been told that the person their son Mac is on his fourth birthday is the person he will be as an adult. Which means, obviously, that he must be in the perfect preschool, coached past any real or imagined insufficiency, and videotaped every second of his young life.
Oh, and what about that formative fourth birthday party? The zoo's okay for that, another mother tells them dismissively, "if you don't mind the smell of the monkey house." So the couple sets out to erase every obstacle, from irritating co-workers to recalcitrant teachers. The Macbeth references are legion. There's talk of never being able to wash out a spot (in Shakespeare, it's blood; here it's pesto), a sleepwalking murderer, children named "Mac" and "Duncan," even a ghost at the banquet.

Besides catching the Bardic references, it's fascinating watching as Genevra and Joshua's journeys part and intersect and part again. Which one is murderous and which one remorseful varies from moment to moment; although they have pledged to be "partners in greatness" it looks like the partnership started to slip once their child was old enough to be sent out into the world. Ben Ortega is amiable as Joshua, who artlessly comments to another parent that sure, he and Genevra have a camcorder — in the bedroom on the nightstand. Anna Ishida's Genevra moves from harried and basically good to cool and calculating to vicious and bloodthirsty along a track that would seem like too much if Coble hadn't taken the time to address vexing questions of class and the immigrant experience.

The rest of the cast play two and three characters each, from denim-smocked teachers to a harried flight attendant (Calum Grant), Genevra's snooty co-worker (Melanie Case) and a passel of parents. One standout is Rami Margon's main character Lynzie, who wields a smile like a Prozac-addled Muppet and the splayed walk of a heavily pregnant woman. But Lynzie opens up into a lioness herself, once the shit starts to hit the leafblower. "Safety seems hard to come by in your family," she notes archly, not too long before a Dave Maier-built swordfight in a Chuck E. Cheese facsimile.

Nasty fun, this story of a couple moving from poisoned pasta to birthday cake at gunpoint has a certain ring of truth, even if there are also ghosts, a giant rapping beaver, and a set reminiscent of a Unitarian Universalist church circa 1979, all burgundy and orange flying geese and plastic chairs. Parents who have tried to wrestle their kids into the most exclusive schools will get it; people without kids might decide to stay that way.

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